Across the country, superintendents and school leaders are joining a growing national movement to address an urgent issue: too many children are missing too many days of school. Millions of children starting in the early grades are chronically absent—missing 10% or more of the school year in excused and unexcused absences.
Over 6.8 million students across the United States are chronically absent. The problem of poor attendance can start early, long before middle or high school. Nationwide, one out of 10 kindergartners and first graders are chronically absent. In some communities, as many as one out of four young students misses that much school. Whether absences are excused or not, the resulting loss of instructional time is substantial and, for many students, the academic consequences are decidedly negative. Children who are chronically absent in kindergarten and first grade are much less likely to read proficiently by the end of third grade and are more likely to have poor attendance in later grades. By middle and high school, chronic absence is a proven early warning sign that a student will drop out. This is especially true for students living in poverty who need school and too often face the greatest barriers to getting to school.
Although many people understand the critical connection between school attendance and achievement, few realize how quickly absences can add up to too much lost time in the classroom. Research suggests that most families want their children to succeed and recognize that regular attendance is important. But few realize missing as little as two days a month can throw their child off track. Chronic absence is a problem we can solve when schools, families and community partners work together to create a culture of daily attendance.
I want to make it clear, improved attendance is one of Idabel Public Schools top priorities. Administrators and teachers are being asked to engage students and families with personalized outreach efforts when absenteeism becomes a problem. By determining who shows signs of chronic absence starting in the first month of school we can all work together to help students get to class before they have missed so much instruction they require academic remediation.
My first step will be letting families know about the critical role they play in getting children to school on time every day. Surveys about parental attitudes show they want the best for their children, including success in school and a college education. But many simply don’t understand how missing just two days a month can put a child academically at risk, starting in the early grades. Teachers will reinforce these messages and, when they can, offer fun incentives to encourage students to show up every day on time to class.
All Idabel Schools are going to take a closer look at our attendance numbers to see how many students are missing 10 percent or more of school days and who those students are. We’ll set attendance goals for our principals and schools, particularly those schools we’re working to improve. We can’t begin to address chronic absence until we find out where it is a problem. These numbers will be an early warning sign that can be used to trigger action and support before students miss so much school they begin to fall behind.
But schools can’t do this alone.
We’re going to call on the whole community to help. We know that recurring illnesses often contribute to absences, especially among children from low-income neighborhoods. Sometimes a parent or sibling has health problems that keep a student from school. So we will work with health care providers and city agencies to come up with solutions for students and families.
Idabel School District will work with parents, police and traffic officials to develop safe routes to school. Volunteers from businesses, faith-based groups and nonprofits can provide an extra shift of adults we need to mentor chronically absent students and reach out to parents.
Think about what you can do within your own family and your own neighborhood to help get more kids to school. I’m leading the charge to stamp out chronic absence in our district’s schools. Please join us in our effort to make every day count! GO WARRIORS!